“The internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.” David Whyte
Maria Popova writes, “Anger, indeed, is one of the emotions we judge most harshly — in others, as well as in ourselves — and yet understanding anger is central to mapping out the landscape of our interior lives.”
The Magnifying Glass of Anger
Although we do judge anger rather bitterly, anger itself can also be like an internal magnifying glass. For, in our anger we discover, in the words of poet/philosopher David Whyte, “what we belong to, what we wish to protect, and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.” Such discoveries are usually indicators of our most precious and vulnerable inner selves.
I have read of three kinds of anger: Passive Aggression, Open Aggression and, the most feared type, Assertive Aggression. As I have pondered the roots of anger over the years, it seems to me that “fear of loss” is the key driver behind any form of anger. It is a primal and essential emotion designed to protect the self or the clan or tribe from losing what is most needed.
Response to Anger is a Choice
So, as an emotion, anger is quite neutral. It was Aristotle who wrote that the right question is not whether anger itself is “good” or “bad,” but rather how anger is used. Anger is a built-in protective system that hyper-activates both energy and focus—a marvelous “protective mechanism.” However, when that passionate anger runs out of control we can run amiss, or “a-wild.”
The question now is to consider more thoughtfully “how do we use anger?” Which leads me to the conclusion that anger is a choice. That’s right. Anger is a choice. It is not limited to an uncontrollable spontaneous reaction. It can be managed in way that truly serves me and what I wish to protect.
How to “Use Anger”
The next movement in this essay is more about “how to use anger.” I believe there are certain requisites and prerequisites that can establish anger as a useful resource and not merely vindictive spontaneous (or planned) retribution. When I understand that my anger is likely a response to some perceived attempt to take something away from of me, my first response must be, “What am I afraid of losing?” “How am I feeling threatened?”
These questions range from fears of loss of status to fears of loss of physical safety. It is essential, then, to begin with clearly understanding what I value most. And when I understand what I am most afraid of losing, I begin to gather insights into precisely what it is I most value.
Anger: The Grand Indicator of Well-Being
This is a time when anger can be a grand indicator, for that which angers me most is also that which I am most afraid of losing. Those include self-esteem, position, health and safety of my family or social group, and just a boatload of other fears.
The learning here for me is to pay more reflective attention to pondering exactly what I am afraid of losing (or what I most value). Anger will guide me. Self-reflection will instruct me. Behavior then demonstrates just how far along the continuum I have come.
Want to Know Your Very Deepest Values?
Be Reflective About Your Anger
Photo courtesy of Svitlana Barsukova at istockphoto